December 20 2020 - December 07 2020
Sainted Ambrose, Bishop of Mediolanum (Milan) (+ 397). Monk Nil of Stolobensk (+ 1554). Monk Antonii of Siisk (+ 1556)
Monk John, Lenten-Faster of Pechersk, in Nearer Caves (XII). Martyr Athenodoros (+ c. 304). Monk Paul the Obedient. Monk Gregory of Athos (XV). Martyr Domitius. Saints Isidor, Acepsimus and Stratius. Monk Ignatius. Saint Savinus. Saint Abraham. VirginMartyr Philothea. Martyress Sympherusa.
Seligersk (Vladimirsk) Icon of the Mother of God.
Sainted Ambrose, Bishop of Mediolanum (Milan), was born in the year 340 into the family of the Roman governor of Gaul (now France). Even in the saint’s childhood there appeared presentiments of his great future. Thus, one time bees covered the face of the sleeping infant and they flew away after leaving honey on his tongue.
After the death of the father of the family, Ambrose journeyed off to Rome, where the future saint and his brother Satyrus received a most excellent, for their time, law education. About the year 370, upon completion of his course of study, Ambrose was appointed to the official position of governor (consular prefect) of districts of Liguria and AEmilia, though he continued to live at Mediolanum (now Milan). In the year 374 the bishop of Mediolanum, Auxentius, died. This entailed complications between the Orthodox and the Arians, since each side wanted to have its own bishop. Ambrose, as the chief city official, set off to the church for presiding over the agenda. When he turned from speaking to the crowd, suddenly some child cried out: “Ambrose – bishop!” The people took up this chant. Ambrose, who at this time was still in the rank of the catechumens, considered himself unworthy, and began to refuse. He attempted falsely to disparage himself, and moreover tried to flee from Mediolanum. The matter went ultimately before the emperor Valentinian the Elder (364-375), whose orders Ambrose dared not disobey. He accepted holy Baptism from an Orthodox priest and, – having in a mere seven days passed through all the ranks of the Church clergy, on 7 December 374 he was ordained to the dignity of bishop of Mediolanum and at once he dispersed all his possessions, money and property for the embellishment of churches, the upkeep of orphans and the poor, and he turned himself towards a strict ascetic life.
Ambrose combined strict temperance, intense vigilance and work within the fulfilling of his duties as pastor. Saint Ambrose, defending the unity of the Church, energetically opposed the spread of heresy. Thus, in the year 379 he traveled off to set up an Orthodox bishop at Sirmium, and in 385-386 he refused to hand over the basilica of Mediolanum to the Arians.
The preaching of Saint Ambrose in defense of Orthodoxy was deeply influential. Another noted father of the Western Church, Blessed Augustine (Comm. 15 June), gave witness to this, having in the year 387 accepted holy Baptism by the grace of the preaching of the bishop of Mediolanum.
Saint Ambrose also actively participated in civil matters. Thus, the emperor Gracian (375-383), having received from him the “Exposition of the Orthodox Faith” (De Fide), removed – by decree of the saint – the altar of Victory from the halls of the Senate at Rome, on which oaths were wont to be taken. Displaying a pastoral boldness, Saint Ambrose placed a severe penance on the emperor Theodosius I (379-395) for a massacre of innocent inhabitants of the city of Soluneia (Thessalonika). For him there was no difference between emperor and common person: having then released Theodosius from the penance, the saint would not permit the emperor to commune at the altar, but compelled him to stand together with all the flock.
Fame about Bishop Ambrose and his actions attracted to him many followers from other lands. From faraway Persia came to him students of sagacity, wanting to discern the Truth. Fritigelda, queen of the military Germanic tribe of the Markomanni, which often had attacked Mediolanum, asked the saint to instruct her in the Christian faith. The saint in his letter to her persuasively stated the dogmas of the Church. And having become a believer, the queen converted her own husband to Christianity and persuaded him to seal a treaty of peace with the Roman empire.
The saint combined strictness with an uncommon kindliness. Granted a gift of wonderworking, he healed many from sickness. One time at Florence, staying at the house of Decentus, he resurrected a dead boy.
The repose of Saint Ambrose, who expired to God on the night of Holy Pascha, was accompanied by many miracles, – and he even appeared in a vision to the children being baptised this night. The saint was buried in the Ambrosian basilica in Mediolanum, beneathe the altar, between the Martyrs Protasius and Gervasius.
A zealous preacher and valiant defender of the Christian faith, Saint Ambrose received particular reknown as a Church writer. In dogmatic compositions he set forth the Orthodox teaching about the Holy Trinity, the Sacraments and Repentance: “Five Books about the Faith” (“De Fide”); “Explication of the Symbol of the Faith” (“Explanatio Symboli”); “About the Incarnation” (“De Incarnationis”); “Three Books about the Holy Spirit” (“De Spiritu Sancto”); “About the Sacraments” (“De Sacramento”); “Two Books about Repentance” (“De Paenitentia”). In writings about Christian morality, he explained the excellence of Christian moral teaching compared to pagan moral teaching. A well-known work of Saint Ambrose, “About the Duties of Clergy-Servers” (“De Officiis Ministrorum”) evidences a deep awareness by him of pastoral duty; in it is contained not only the command for proper knowledge of Church-services, but the proper knowledge also of moral precepts, for those that serve in the Church. Saint Ambrose was also a reformer of Church-singing. He introduced into the western Church antiphonal singing (along the Eastern or Syrian form), which became known as “Ambrosian Chant”; and he composed 12 hymns, which were used during his lifetime. His solemn thanksgiving hymn, – “Thou, O God, we praise” (Te Deum), composed in the year 386, entered into the Divine-services of the Orthodox Church.
The Monk Nil of Stolobensk was born into a peasant family in a small village of the Novgorod diocese. In the year 1505 he took monastic vows at the monastery of the Monk Savva of Krypetsk near Pskov. After 10 years in ascetic life at the monastery he set out to the River Sereml', on the side of the city of Ostashkova; here for 13 years he led a strict ascetic life in incessant struggle against the snares of the devil, who took on the appearance of apparitions – reptiles and wild beasts. Many of the inhabitants of the surrounding area started coming to the monk for instruction, but this became burdensome for him and he prayed God to point out to him a place for deeds of quietude. One time after long prayer he heard a voice: “Nil! Go to Lake Seliger. There upon the island of Stolobensk thou canst be saved!” From people that came to him the Monk Nil learned the whereabouts of the island; when he arrived there, he was astonished at its beauty.
In the midst of the lake – the island was covered over by dense forest; on it the monk found a small hill and dug out a cave, and after a certain while he built himself an hut, in which he lived for 26 years. Exploits of strict fasting and quietude [ie. hesychia] he accompanied with another and unique effort – he never lay down to sleep, but permitted himself only a light nap, leaning on a prop set into the wall of the cell.
The pious life of the monk many a time roused the envy of the enemy of mankind, which evidenced itself through the spiteful action of the local inhabitants. One time someone set fire to the woods on the island where stood the hut of the monk, but the flames upon reaching the hill in miraculous manner went out. Another time robbers forced themselves into the hut. The monk said to them: “All my treasure is in the corner of the cell”. In this corner stood an icon of the Mother of God, but the robbers began to search there for money and became blinded. Then with tears of repentance they begged the monk for forgiveness.
Many other miracles done by the monk are known of. He was wont to quietly refuse an offering if the conscience of the one offering it to him was impure, or if they were in bodily impurity.
In an awareness of his end, the Monk Nil prepared for himself a grave. And at the time of his death they came to him on the island an hegumen from one of the nearby monasteries and communed him with the Holy Mysteries. Before the departure of the hegumen, the Monk Nil for a last time made prayer and censed round the holy icons and the cell, and gave up to the Lord his immortal soul on 7 December 1554. The glorification of his holy relics (now venerated at the Znamenie Icon of the Mother of God church in the city of Ostashkova) was done in the year 1667, with feastdays established both on the day of his death and on 27 May.
The Monk Antonii of Siisk, in the world Andrei, was born into a family of rich farmers in the village of Kekhta near the North Dvina river. In childhood he received a fine education, read much and learned iconography. Bereaved of his parents, Andrei set off to Novgorod and for five years worked for a boyar (nobleman) there. He later married, but his wife died after a year. Then Andrei decided to dedicate himself to monasticism. He distributed his goods to the poor and as a wanderer came to the Pakhomiev wilderness-monastery at the River Kena. The Monk Pakhomii gave him monastic vows with the name Antonii. Soon they had him ordained to the dignity of priest-monk, and the monk by himself – with the blessing of the hegumen, made the Divine-services. He went out together with the other monks of the monastery to work for the monastic needs in common. Out of love for solitude the Monk Antonii eventually left the Pakhomiev wilderness, – having chosen from the monastic brethren two companions, and he settled upon Mikhailov island, on the one side washed by the River Sii, and on the other, by encircling lakes. In this harsh frontier within the dense thickets a chapel was built by Antonii in 1520. But to clear the forest required difficult work, and the companions of Antonii began to grumble against him. And just then quite unexpectedly an unknown man began to furnish them the means of subsistence, offering even money for good measure. The Siisk monastery became reknown, and inhabitants of surrounding villages often visited it. And again the Monk Antonii, taking one disciple, withdrew to a still more remote place on Lake Palun. There, in a solitary cell, he dwelt for three years. When the hegumen Theoktist refused further to guide the Siisk monastery, the brethren tried to persuade the Monk Antonii to return to them. He finally acceded to the request of the monks, again became hegumen and piously guided the monastery until his death in the year 1556, when he was 79 years old.
The Holy Martyr Athenodoros, from Syrian Mesopotamia, led a monastic life from the time of his youthful years. Reported on, he was arrested and condemned to fierce tortures by the governor of the land, Eleusios. Miracles accompanied the martyrdom of the saint, which brought many of the pagans there present to the Christian faith. When they decided to behead the saint with a sword, the executioner died, and his head separated from its shoulders. The saint gave up his spirit to God in prayer.
The Monk Paul the Obedient – when he lived is unknown. There is only a short life which says that he was the son of well-off parents. He left secular life upon reaching maturity. The appellation “Obedient” was bestowed upon the monk for the deep humility peculiar to him and for the complete renunciation of his own will. One time the monk moved by hand boiling resin-pitch, and received not the slightest burn from it. Some of the brethren regarded him as a God-bearing ascetic, but others became suspicious of him. Through prayers the monks received an unique vision proving that their brother – was a true ascetic. By night they were all transported off to paradise and they conversed with the Monk Paul, who permitted them to take with them for the memory a flower or twig. Awakening from sleep, they detected in their hands the flowers and twigs from paradise. After this Blessed Paul set off to Jerusalem, and then to Cyprus. Having led a solitary life, he expired to God on Mount Paregoros [Mount Solace]. Before his death the voice of God said to him: “Ascend the mountain, Paul, and accept the end of life”.
The Monk Gregory, born in Serbia, pursued asceticism on Athos. The monastery formed by him, and dedicated by him to Saint Nicholas, was termed in his honour the Gregoryite. In the Athos record-acts was discovered the signature of the monk from about 1405. By tradition, the relics of Saint Gregory were taken from Athos by Serbian monks.
© 1999 by translator Fr. S. Janos